Classic Revisited: Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand

beethousand-gbvIf my love for Guided by Voices was supposed to be a secret, I have done a terrible job of keeping it. I sing their praises all over this site and in real life as well (if you see me in real life, do not approach me). Bob Pollard and whatever band of merry pranksters he has assembled this time around are simply the best pure, carbon-neutral source of hooks that we can access. At least, without resorting to dangerous rock and roll fracking (This is how Walter Becker from Steely Dan died). The band came from exactly nowhere (big shout-out to my ‘hood Dayton, Ohio), and has remained resilient for nigh on 30 years, producing anthemic, raucous and mercifully brief tunes at an alarming rate.

Pollard and company (but if we’re being honest, usually just Pollard) somehow have an uncanny knack for figuring out exactly when the listener is getting tired of a particular musical idea, and stop the song about five seconds before that point. As a result, you’re left wanting much more of a hook you’ve just barely gotten to know. Any given GBV show will feature at least 30-40 songs. Though the band has gone through many incarnations over the years, while eventually recording some of their more recent albums in an actual studio, the absolute culmination of their work simply has to be their 1994 album Bee Thousand.

This was the point where everything clicked for the band. I will admit that I wasn’t an immediate fan upon my first listen. The lo-fi aesthetic definitely takes some getting-used-to. This is one of those albums that was definitely recorded on a 4-track with a shitload of cheap beer as fuel. Throughout the record, you can hear doors creaking and chairs moving. The band is there in the room with you; the amps buzz and the snare drum rattles when its not being used. But buried underneath each crude and raw surface is a polished gem of a pop song. It’s going to take a few listens before these songs open up, though. I’ve heard Bee Thousand described as a “subliminal record,” and I feel like this is the best way to approach it. Don’t think too hard about it. Put it on when you’re doing something else. I was painting the basement at my parents’ house as part of some sort of crooked punishment/character-building activity. Listen to it four complete times. Then be prepared to lose sleep because “Queen of Cans and Jars” is caught in your head.

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GBV squeeze 20 tracks onto this relatively short album, and though they’re not all amazing, not one is inessential. Let this wholly unique band into your head, and you’ll see why the fans are so devoted. You’ll also see why this Bee Thousand is one of the touchstones of indie and alternative music, a true embodiment of the DIY ideal first displayed in punk rock.

Get hip.

Highlights of Bee Thousand? I have to pick just a few?

  1. The driving sneer of “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows”
  2. The organic build of “Tractor Rape Chain”
  3. The haunting harmonies and cryptic lyrics of “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory”
  4. The pop perfection of “Echoes Myron”
  5. The indelible shout-along of “A Big Fan of the Pigpen”
  6. The left-field single of “I Am A Scientist”

Yikes. You’d better check out the whole thing. Also catch Guided by Voices in concert during one of the points where they happen to be touring. They “broke up” recently, but they’ll be back, probably with a different lineup, pretty soon.

I’ve seen them 4 times, but I’m going for an even 10 before I/they die.

Who do we think will die first?

It’s me, isn’t it?

2 comments to “Classic Revisited: Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand”
  1. Pingback: While Powerful Pistons Were Sugary Sweet Machines: My Favorite Albums 1990-1999 | Rocknuts

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